Author's Note: For those interested, there are now five advance chapters on P-atreon (remove the spaces and dash): p-atreon/ SkySage24.

Iyanden thrummed with life.

The wraithbone core of the trade-ship pulsed gently like the heartbeat of a living being, and so it was. Iyanden was not a vessel of cold metal and glass, it was a living creature.

All the Eldar upon the vessel could feel it if they let themselves.

Of course, being alive did not mean being intelligent. But that was changing, as the roots of the World Tree entwined around themselves around Iyanden's core, in a symbiosis that strengthened them both, until they were no longer two but one.

The seed of the World Spirit that Isha planted was only just a spark, but it was healthy and already growing. In time, Iyanden would be as alive as any Maiden World, and the World Spirit would be its guardian and steward as much as any living Eldar. It would hold the souls of her children, keeping them safe from Slaanesh's grasp and growing stronger with every soul it absorbed.

…assuming, of course, that her children died aboard Iyanden itself or at least their dreamstones and the spirit within could be brought back to the Craftworld.

It was frustrating. Once upon a time, none of this would have been necessary. Isha had her domain with the Aethyr, a realm where the souls of her followers could rest in peace. The souls of her Chosen she could draw to the realm directly, and as for the others…well, her mother had been Keeper of Souls and Arbiter of Fate. But as capricious and cruel as Morai-heg could be, she was Isha's mother, and rarely had she denied a soul that wished to reside at her daughter's side.

But that was past. Slaanesh had devoured her mother and usurped her claim upon Eldar souls, so Isha was forced to improvise, constructing this pseudo-afterlife realm that existed within the Materium. It was not unpleasant by any means, Isha had made sure that any souls that went to the World Spirit would reside in a paradisal dream realm.

But still. It was dangerous. If Iyanden was ever destroyed, or something happened to the World Spirit, and Isha was not present.

Even with the souls of her Chosen, there was no realm for her to direct them to. They would come to her directly, and she could revive them, absorb them or place them within the World Spirit.

Yet what other choice did she have? There was no other place for the souls of her children to grow. The domains of herself and her family were gone, subsumed into the Realms of Chaos. The Dominion's Eternal Matrix lay in ruins, impossible for Isha to restore, though the idea of it had served as inspiration for the new system she had constructed.

This was the best she could do, as risky as it was.

But that didn't mean it wasn't humiliating. Even during the War in Heaven, she had better means of safeguarding the souls of her children. Even after the C'tan had pierced the Veil to invade the Immaterium, Isha and her pantheon could flee into the Webway.

None of those solutions were available to her now.

The situation was too different. She lacked the resources and allies she could have relied on her, her power had diminished greatly and the Chaos Gods were not the C'tan.

In some ways, that was better. The Chaos Gods were too scattered, too insane and incoherent to be as focused and unyielding as the C'tan could be. Not unless Isha made the mistake of entering the very heart of their power.

But in other ways, the Chaos Gods had advantages the C'tan could not. Even after invading the Sea of Souls, the Yngir could not corrupt or subsume the domains of their enemies. Lay waste to them, yes, but not turn to them for their own purpose.

There was no point in ruminating over what had once been, Isha reminded herself. She had to focus on what was in front of her now, the enemies who threatened her at this moment, not the ones long dead.

Pushing her melancholy aside, Isha turned her attention away from Iyanden to what lay directly in front of her.

In front of her was a large garden, one where a group of children were playing and laughing.

They were playing a game of hide and seek, most of the children hiding in places that were obvious to Isha's experienced eyes, but were clever for children…though their giggling might give them away. The one child who had been chosen to seek out the rest was still counting down, his eyes shut.

Finally, he finished and his eyes snapped open, and rushed off to lack for his friends.

He found some of them soon enough, and despite the annoyance of the children who had been discovered so quickly, they forgave their friend easily enough as the game continued.

Their innocence was a balm to Isha, and she felt some of her bitterness and anger melt away at the sight of their simple joy.

Isha was tempted to approach them, maintaining the guise of a seemingly ordinary Eldar. But she had other, more important matters that demanded her attention and there was only so long she could spend on Iyanden.

With one last regretful look at the giggling children, Isha stood, and then rose into the air, flying towards the temple.

She could hear the children's shouts and exclamation behind, the surprise them and their caretakers as they realized who had been watching them. It made her smile a little.

But soon, she was above her destination: the Temple of Asuryan.

Or perhaps not, given her symbols that now decorated the Temple. But it was difficult to think of it as anything else, given the flame at its heart.

Isha dismissed the thought. Dreamspinner and Cadaith were waiting for her, there was work to be done.

Mehlendri, Dreamspinner and Cadaith were in one of the rooms that must have been used to train the acolytes, though it was currently empty. It was clean but sparse, the white walls bare of any decoration and only with a few mats on the floor.

"Your Serenity." The three of them bowed to her.

"Rise, my children," Isha told them. "There is no need for formalities today, we have much work to do," She directed a curious look at Mehlendri. "I hope you're feeling better, my dear?"

Mehlendri chuckled giddily, smiling. "I am, Mother," He said, beaming. The Fleetmaster of Iyanden looked different than he had the other day, his form now broader and more solid, having shifted from a female form to a male one. "It is good to be able to shift forms again. I had done so regularly once, but even since the Fall, it was too dangerous. Yet, being stuck in a single form, unable to change at will, it was…very confining."

"I am glad," Isha said warmly.

"I too am glad for you, Mehlendri," Dreamspinner cut in, and Isha could tell the sentiment was sincere despite his curtness. "But we do have other matters to address."

"Of course," Isha said, clapping her hands. "Now, let us begin with the foundation of our work here: runes. You two already have some familiarity with them, I believe."

Dreamspinner nodded. "We were taught Asuryan's runes, so that we could invoke the concepts around him when casting spells. The other Temples taught them as well, but only for their specific gods. I had heard that religious runecraft was only part of an older form of magic, but such things have long fallen out of favour among the Dominion." He seemed embarrassed to admit it.

"I don't know much of runecraft," Cadaith admitted. "I am uncertain of why I am here, Mother."

"We'll get to that," Isha told him. "Now, let me give you two a brief overview. In the aftermath of the War in Heaven, the Sea of Souls was full of predators, not dissimilar to how it is today. Daemon Kings, Enslavers…many were the abominations that filled the Sea. At the time, I and the rest of the Pantheon were far stronger and could shield the mortal Aeldari better, but drawing on the energies of the Aethyr was still…risky. More than that, there was an urgent need for ways to quell warpstorms and seal rifts in reality without needing to call upon us, for we were often occupied with keeping the horrors of the Warp at bay. To this end, your ancestors devised the first runes."

With a flick of her wrist, the room was filled with dazzling symbols, floating around them.

"I recognize some of these!" Cadaith said, surprised and fascinated in equal parts as he examined the symbols.

"You do?" Dreamspinner asked, unable to keep the skepticism out of his voice.

Cadaith shot him a glare. "I do," He said, not quite snapping but close. "I studied many ancient dialects of Eltharin as part of my duties as Ulthanesh's Heir."

"I believe Mother has not finished with her explanation," Mehlendri cut in before the two of them could start arguing. Which was the main reason they were here, if Isha was being honest. The Fleetmaster had little to contribute to the actual development of the runes, but they'd keep Dreamspinner and Cadaith in line and on target. On their own, the two of them would likely be distracted by petty squabbling.

"That is why you are here, Cadaith," Isha said. "Dreamspinner and the other Priests of Asuryan are the most skilled mages upon Iyanden, but they will need your understanding of ancient Eltharin to comprehend and innovate runecraft. I will also give some lessons before I leave, of course, but the study of runes must continue even after I leave."

Cadaith seemed a little downcast at the reminder that Isha would be leaving soon, but also determined. "I will not fail you, Mother."

Dreamspinner seemed more hesitant but agreed. "We understand."

Mehlendri simply offered a nod, resolute and unyielding.

"Good. Now, to return to what I was saying…the most commonly known runes today are the ones belonging to my family and I, meant to invoke our power. But many of the first runes were designed so that they could be effective even without us. Their foremost purpose was to stabilize the power of the Sea, channelling it in such a way that it was safe to wield. Furthermore, it was also meant to strengthen the Veil, which makes it perfect for our purposes today."

Dreamspinner nodded thoughtfully, his features illuminated by the light of the runes surrounding him. "We have already been using the Runes of Asuryan to some extent. We used them to seal the, ah, fragment of the Bloody-Handed One. But those are all specialized, with limited utility out of specific situations."

Mehlendri, Dreamspinner and Cadaith seemed to expect some sort of reaction to the mention of her father, but Isha ignored it. She had no desire to dwell on Khaine right now.

"I will teach you more generalized runes, yes. So that you may begin wielding magic without as much fear of Slaanesh. I fear my knowledge may be too generalized, for the higher tiers of sorcery, I am not as knowledgeable as Lileath was-" Or Cegorach, but it was rare indeed that the once-god of wisdom took any student or shared his knowledge. "-but I can give you a foundation to begin with."

"Now, can you tell me what the first rule of runecraft is?" Isha asked.

"You need a focus," Dreamspinner said quietly. "Runes cannot simply be conjured from pure energy, there must be something to channel their power stably."

Mehlendri seemed a little surprised. "But what of the runes around us?" They asked, their form and voice shifting to a more androgynous one, not quite either male or female even as they spoke and gestured to the symbols Isha had conjured in the air.

"These are merely an illusion of sorts," Isha explained. "None of these have power on their own. Dreamspinner is correct, runes need a focus. The runes that the priests placed around…Khaine's prison, for example, was inscribed on the wraithbone bindings that the bone singers wove around it."

Bonesinging beings one of the few forms of sorcery her children could still use more or less to its full effectiveness, due to the fact that its principles were fundamentally rooted in calming and shaping the raw energies of the Sea of Souls.

"Then the most effective way to use runes would be to create small Wraithbone constructs in the shape of the rune itself," Cadaith mused thoughtfully. "In small sizes, perhaps, so that a mage could carry around them easily for usage."

"A good idea," Isha said, pleased. That wasn't an angle she had even considered, but it could be very useful. "Now, let's get to it. I have not much time before I must go, so we must get done as much as we can as quickly as possible…"